An introduction to the history and techniques of massage
Massage Is One of the Oldest Healing Arts
Chinese records dating back 3,000 years document its use. The ancient Hindus, Persians and Egyptians applied forms of massage for many ailments and Hippocrates wrote papers recommending the use of rubbing and friction for joint and circulatory problems. Today, the benefits of massage are varied and far-reaching. As an accepted part of many physical rehabilitation programs, massage therapy is beneficial for many chronic conditions, including low back pain, arthritis, bursitis, fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, immunity suppression, infertility, smoking cessation, and depression. Millions of people will affirm that massage helps relieve the stress and tension of everyday living, which can lead to disease and illness.
Massage, bodywork and somatic (meaning “of the body”) therapies are defined as the application of various techniques to the muscular structure and soft tissues of the human body. Specifically, massage is the application of soft-tissue manipulation techniques to the body to reduce stress and fatigue while improving circulation. The many variations of massage account for several different techniques. Bodywork describes various forms of touch therapies which may use manipulation, movement, and/or re-patterning to affect structural changes to the body. “Somatic” is the term used to denote a body/mind or whole-body approach, as distinguished from a physiology-only or environmental perspective.
There are over 250 variations of massage, bodywork and somatic therapies. Some of the most recognized forms are: deep tissue, Swedish, reflexology, cranial sacral, trigger point, sports, prenatal, geriatric and chair massage. Many practitioners use multiple techniques which may include stroking, kneading, tapping, rocking, or compression, vibration, friction and pressure to muscles or soft tissues. Oils, lotions and powders may be applied to reduce friction on the skin. The benefits of receiving massage or bodywork treatments are many and varied.
- Alleviate low back pain and improve range of motion
- Assist with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays
- Ease medication dependence
- Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow (the body’s natural defense system)
- Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles
- Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts
- Improve the condition of the body’s largest organ (the skin)
- Increase joint flexibility
- Lessen depression and anxiety
- Promote tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue and stretch marks
- Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation
- Reduce spasms and cramping
- Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles
- Release endorphins (amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkillers)
- Relieve migraine pain
Research continues to show the enormous benefits of touch, ranging from treating chronic diseases, neurological disorders, and injuries, to alleviating the tensions of modern lifestyles. Consequently, the medical community is actively embracing bodywork, and massage is becoming an integral part of hospice care and neonatal intensive care units. Many hospitals are also incorporating on-site massage practitioners and even spas to treat post-surgery or pain patients as part of the recovery process. In response to massage, specific physiological and chemical changes cascade throughout the body, with profound effects, including the following:
- Arthritis sufferers note fewer aches and less stiffness and pain
- Asthmatic children show better pulmonary function and increased peak air flow
- Burn injury patients report reduced pain, swelling, itching, and anxiety
- High blood pressure patients demonstrate lower diastolic blood pressure, anxiety, and stress hormones
- Premenstrual syndrome sufferers have decreased water retention and cramping
- Preterm infants have improved weight gain
Proven Emotional Effects
Experts estimate that upwards of 90% of disease is stress-related. It is widely held that nothing ages us faster, internally and externally, than high stress. While eliminating anxiety and pressure altogether in this fast-paced world may be idealistic, massage can, without a doubt, help manage stress. This translates into decreased anxiety, enhanced sleep quality, greater energy, improved concentration, increased circulation and reduced fatigue. Furthermore, clients often report a sense of perspective and clarity after receiving a massage. The emotional balance bodywork provides can often be just as vital and valuable as the more tangible physical advantages.
Much More Than a Pampering
Getting a massage can do you a world of good. And getting a massage frequently can do even more. This is the beauty of bodywork. Taking part in this form of regularly scheduled self-care can play a huge part in how healthy you’ll be and how youthful you’ll remain with each passing year. Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health. And remember, just because massage feels like a pampering treat doesn’t mean it is any less therapeutic. Consider massage appointments a necessary piece of your health and wellness plan, and work with your practitioner to establish a treatment schedule that best meets your needs. There is no denying the power of bodywork. Regardless of the adjectives we assign to it, i.e., pampering, rejuvenating, therapeutic, or the reasons we seek it out, i.e., a luxurious treat, stress relief, or pain management, massage therapy can contribute significantly
to your wellness.